My Junkie Fix – Scuba Style – Part 1

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac

Hi Everyone!

Imagine you could float down a city street. Better yet, go see your favourite band in a stadium and float down to see them, hovering above the people in the front row and not touching anything around you. Ever wanted to hang vertically upside down while examining the world around you? All of this minus the rock band/city street scenarios happens when experiencing zero gravity when scuba diving.

Borneo is well known among the diving community for its scuba diving and it is the reason I chose to come here. It has a plethora of islands and dive sites to choose from, some more remote than others, many with unique diversity and at different price levels. In addition to the diving is a variety of accommodations and the level of service the hostel/hotel/resort and dive operation offers to its guests. I chose Borneo primarily because of an island called Sipidan, which I first heard about from some Canadians I had met diving five years ago while at Wakatobi Dive Resort in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Sipidan is renowned for its schools of swirling fish, barracuda, and jacks to name a few. It also has fantastic micro and muck diving, as well as hammerheads and whale sharks, seasonally dependent.

Uncle Tan’s Jungle Lodge van dropped a few of us off at Circle Junction on the way back to their Ops Base where we grabbed a shared van taxi to Lahad Datu and then switched directly onto another heading for Semporna. Semporna is a small city known primarily to tourists for the snorkeling and diving in the area, and the islands just north of the city and south where I was headed, Mabul, Siamil, Kapalai and Sipidan. A family was in our van to Semporna that piqued my curiosity about what it would be like to travel with a child. They were from San Diego and the mother is Mexican and the father is Swiss German. Diego, their two year old speaks English, German, Spanish and French as they recently moved from French Guyana. Amazing. The mother told me he has been travelling since he was two months old and is very well conditioned to do so and that it can be done. It was the cutest thing later that day when we were on the resort beach on Mabul and Diego was running around naked while a group of Malaysian children surrounding him, grabbing at him and so wanting to pat his little white bum. It was adorable; they truly did not know what to think of him and giggled incessantly.

When we arrived in Semporna a small boy approached us and dumped the family’s bags into a wheel barrel running off with us to follow. With our heavy bags we desperately tried to keep up in the blazing heat as this young boy maneouvred himself among parked cars, alleyways and the market, depositing us at Scuba Junkie Semporna.

As you can imagine I did a lot of research about where I wanted to dive and whom with as I considered this to be the most important part of my trip. Scuba Junkie continuously came out on top when I looked at costs, accommodation types, dive options, # of permits allotted for Sipidan and the ease of getting one. As well, it had a hostel in Semporna in addition to the resort on Mabul so it offered a great option for someone like me who would arrive too late in the afternoon for their transfer to Mabul and would need to overnight in Semporna on the last night to make the first flight from Tawau to either Kota Kinabalu or Kuala Lumpur. Since I arrived and only needed to sleep I chose to stay in the dorm and it was clean, warm showers were available (keep in mind, you don’t want a hot shower 90% of the time you’re in Borneo), and although the wireless was down they offered a computer with Internet. I put my locked bag in the dorm, kept my valuables with me and headed over to Scuba Junkie’s dive shop to check in and pay. The process was easy, I gave them my dive equipment sizes and off I went to a café down the street, ate dinner and wrote.

While Semporna is teeming with foreigners it is also very much a working Malaysian city where fishing is the largest source of income. The market is large and in the sea section you’ll find everything from manta rays to shark fins to snapper and tuna. As a scuba diver it breaks your heart, not so much for all of the seafood that you prefer to see in the ocean but more for the creatures such as the rays that are rarer and the shark fins which many in the world are desperately trying to make illegal to be sold. I’m reminded of the destitution of many Malaysians when my pen falls from the terrace next to a parked car and I think I’ll grab it later only to find it gone minutes after. Later on, I return to the café and the fan cooling me off blows my RM3 change onto the street and it was like moths to a flame, hands snatching in the sky, for $1 CAD. I try to tell myself that even North American hands would do the same with dollar bills but I’m not so sure. My first response would be to look up and offer it back to the person who had lost it.

Next, I had a very amusing interaction at a Walmart kind of store, on a MUCH smaller scale in which I went to buy shorts for pjs and a tank top since laundry lost mine. First, no English was spoken so it became a game of charades. Second, it’s a Muslim country so all shorts, for men or women are past the knee. I tried to ask for men’s boxers and was taken to some that would make me bleed the material was so rough and so I tried to charade that I’d like some softer ones and finally was led to the Calvin Klein boxer briefs, likely not real but they were soft and perfect! The boxes were closed but they had some sample sizes so I grabbed an XXL only to find that it would fit only one of my thighs. Great. I grab the 3XXXL and am not even sure that will fit so I hold it up to the boy helping me (well, I actually have three teenagers helping me now) and it looks like it would be too big for him. I then hold it up to the girl whose hips are a bit wider and they began to scream in laughter – the idea of men’s underwear on a female is simply too much for them.  Personally I like them, the bulge just adds character. I then went to find a white tank top and while I did find one to buy I also had to try it on over my clothes as there are no changing rooms and no mirrors. At least I only paid RM14, $5 CAD for two pairs of underwear and a tank top. I went back to the café, wrote some more and headed to the dorm where I slept well except when the guy below me who must have had a bad dream and gave a great big yell out in the middle of the night.

The next morning the transfer to Mabul island was at 8am and took approximately 45 minutes. The one thing I think they failed at was neglecting to tell me that I would be diving immediately upon arriving at the jetty and so I should have my bathing suit on, valuables locked in my bigger bag and bring only what I needed for the day of diving. Upon arrival at Mabul we were off and running, I quickly changed, locked things up and a group of six of us took off for our three dives, two before lunch and one after.

As many of my readers are non divers I think the best way to go about sharing my dive experiences, advice, destination guides etc is to do so at the end of the post or series of posts. I’ll quickly mention here that if you are a snorkeler you are also in the right place, meaning Borneo. There is excellent snorkeling at almost all of the dive sites and while most dives begin deep they end shallow on the reefs so there is a ton to see for the non-diver as well. A huge amount of turtles, so many where you almost tire of them as well as huge schools of fish, some seahorses, etc. Typically a dive resort will charge a bit more for a snorkeler but include equipment and offer excellent free snorkeling off of the house reef or the resort’s jetty. Snorkeling trips to the prime locations are at an additional cost. 

Stay tuned for life on Mabul. Xoxo. J

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